The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects individuals from warrantless searches by the government, but does not generally apply to the actions of a private person. It can apply, however, if the private person is acting as a government agent. Courts consider whether the government knew of and agreed to the person’s conduct and whether the person’s intent was to help law enforcement. In a recent Washington case, a teenage defendant appealed her possession conviction after the juvenile court admitted evidence her mother found in a search conducted in the presence of a deputy.
According to the appeals court’s unpublished opinion, the mother reported her teen daughter had snuck out and came home intoxicated. The girl was asleep in bed when the deputy responded, and he did not think she looked intoxicated. The mother told him the girl had packed her backpack to run away. The deputy told the mother she could take the backpack and cellphone from her daughter. The mother emptied the contents of the backpack, including a small container that appeared to contain marijuana. The mother told the deputy she wanted her daughter charged. The state charged the girl with possession of 40 grams or less of marijuana while under 21 years of age.
The defendant moved to suppress the marijuana, arguing it was found in an unlawful warrantless search.